Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Clegg is about the closest thing to an insurgent campaign

In the US Presidential system there is the phenomenon known as the "insurgent campaign". This is when people like Barack Obama or Bill Clinton can come almost out of nowhere at least in terms of national recognition and take the presidency. It can make the US primary races and the ensuing Presidential races very exciting as we saw recently in 2008.

We don't have the same system here. It is not possible for someone to come out of nowhere and enter the Prime Ministerial race. The leaders of the main parties usually have to have been in parliament for a very long time before they get a chance at standing in a General Election campaign. They have to have worked their way up the greasy pole within their own party, earned the confidence of enough of their colleagues over time and then eventually when the opportunity arrives accede to the leadership. This can easily take 10 years or more.

Let's have a quick look at the main 3 party leaders at election time in the last 30 years and how long they had each been in parliament:

Michael Foot (38 years)
Margaret Thatcher (24 years)
David Steel (18 years)
Roy Jenkins (30 years cumulative since 1948)

Neil Kinnock (17 years)
Margaret Thatcher (28 years)
David Steel (22 years)
David Owen (21 years)

Neil Kinnock (22 years)
John Major (13 years)
Paddy Ashdown (9 years)

Tony Blair (14 years)
John Major (18 years)
Paddy Ashdown (14 years)

Tony Blair (18 years)
William Hague (12 years)
Charles Kennedy (18 years)

Tony Blair (22 years)
Michael Howard (22 years)
Charles Kennedy (22 years)

Only Paddy Ashdown in 1992 had less than 10 years parliamentary experience when leading his party in a General Election. Look at what we have now though:

Gordon Brown (27 years)
David Cameron (9 years)
Nick Clegg (5 years)

So although Cameron seemed fresh and new at first he has actually been leader of his party for over 4 years. And in that time he has (naturally) done everything he can to get media coverage. He has had big poll leads and hence the public has got to know him.

Clegg on the other hand only became party leader just over two years ago. He has only been in parliament since 2005. He feels even more fresh and new. Add to that the fact that he has had very little media coverage until a few weeks ago and suddenly you start to have the ingredients for something which looks a bit like an insurgency. It isn't really of course. He hasn't come out of nowhere. He was an MEP from 1999 until 2004 and has been a senior and well respected figure in the party for well over a decade.

But lots of the public aren't really aware of that. Like Obama, he just seems to have come out of nowhere with a very good performance in the leader debate last week. They seem to like the fact that he is new and could be the change that people want. Even more so than Cameron who must be cursing the fact that he did not see this coming.

We don't have a presidential system in this country so the fact that I am focusing on the leaders in this way is not really fair. However that is exactly what our media does and that is what I am talking about. the public perception as filtered through the media.

If there is an historic breakthrough at this election for the Lib Dems it will be at least partly down to this apparent insurgent phenomenon.

UPDATE: Thanks to Richard Gadsden in the comments for correcting who the SDP leader was in 1983.

1 comment:

Richard Gadsden said...

SDP leader in 1983 was Roy Jenkins, MP for 30 years (1948-1977, 1982-1987), not David Owen